As the controversy continues to spin out of control over the selection of Afro-Latina actress, Zoe Saldana, to play the role of The High Priestess of Soul, Nina Simone, in an unauthorized film, author and web content manager of NinaSimone.com, Aaron Overfield, made it clear that the legend herself would not tolerate the erasure of such an intimate part of her struggle.
“The issues surrounding this unauthorized film depicting Nina Simone, which we might as well call a biopic since they are naming the thing Nina, are complex, multilayered, and multifaceted,” wrote Overfield in a posting titled, “Open Letter To Anyone Who Cares About Nina Simone.
“The discussions of the issues are as complex as they are controversial; however, they are important conversations to have and keep having. The most frustrating people are the ones who imply everyone should just shut up and “wait and see” or “leave them alone.” That kind of attitude and oppression is not in the spirit of Nina Simone whatsoever. Quite the opposite.
“Nina was vocal, defiant, a warrior, an activist. She would not have simply shut up and sat down. She would’ve shown up at the studio with a shotgun to speak with Ms. Mort and slapped the makeup off Zoe. So let’s get that straight first. We’re going to talk about this and those of us with strong, impassioned opinions are going to express them.”
Cynthia Mort, writer and director of the film, is harshly taken to task as an “arrogant,” White woman who dares to speak to and for Black Americans in a culturally insensitive and selfish maneuver that is proving to be exploitative of both Ms. Simone and her legacy:
“Cynthia Mort is not a black woman. That is a very crucial point here. I am a white man. I know that as a white man I do not have the authority to speak of the black experience because it is not my experience. I cannot and will not “speak” for black people or assume to know the intricacies of racism, as experienced by black people. The privilege and arrogance it takes to do so is disturbing and downright disgusting.
“How Cynthia Mort, (who some call a white woman, though I argue she’s Latin American) justifies this to herself boggles my mind. While she may consider herself a fan or admirer of Nina Simone, how does she make the leap to giving herself the authority to decide the version of Nina’s life that is worthy of telling (or fictionalizing) and the gall to decide who should portray Nina on film? The reason I can’t fathom what Cynthia Mort could possibly be thinking is because the arrogance on her behalf is appalling and I know for a fact I would not take such liberties. I would not completely disregard the feelings of a population whose experience I do not share and therefore cannot speak to with authority.”
Overfield has not been silent on social media, either. The “Veil,” author took it to the “Tweets” and again voiced his opinion that Ms. Simone would have a few choice things to say to Saldana — and she wouldn’t use her mouth.
The irony here is that Overfield is, as he stated, a White man. Just as he considers it “arrogant” of Mort to butcher the story of Ms. Simone into misshapen, unrecognizable pieces, it can also be construed as such for him to even dare think he has the depth of visceral understanding to be outraged at colorism on behalf of Black people everywhere.
Though his genuine respect of the High Priestess is admirable, the larger picture is that Mort is wrong, not that she is not Black.
Overfield’s intentions are obviously good, and he assures readers that Mort’s are as well, but he is not telling us anything that Nina Simone’s daughter, Simone Kelly, has not already said. If Mort’s perspective of Ms. Simone is invalid because of her race, then isn’t Overfield’s perspective on how Ms. Simone would react to Mort’s perspective invalid because of his?
I personally take issue with Overfield implying that Ms. Simone would resort to violence between sisters, no matter how volatile the issue. On what is he basing that assumption? Hopefully, not some generic depiction of what it is to be a “strong,” “warrior” of a Black woman, which, unaccepted by many, extends much deeper than neck-snapping and fisticuffs to settle conflict.
The take-away here is we have two White people in the public sphere with divergent interpretations on how best to tell a Black woman’s story, by whom and what the authentic nuances of that story should entail — and maybe even more importantly, how Black America will react to it.
How deep will this twisted rabbit hole go?
Read the rest of Overfield’s extremely passionate letter at NinaSimone.com.